The Evil Within: Die Again - Games Weekly

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Friday, December 5, 2014

The Evil Within: Die Again

The Evil Within hates you. It does everything in its power to mangle your body, blow off your limbs and lop off your head. It funnels you into tiny corridors with one-hit-kill bosses. It hides booby traps among long grass, where your first warning is wet chunks of torso flying in different directions. And it goes as far as to rewrite the golden headshot rule. Strike a brain with a bullet? Nice shot wait, you didn't expect it to stop your enemy, did you?

Even the screen dimensions want you deader than dead. It’s permanently letterboxed in a 2.35:1 format for ‘cinematic effect’, and if protagonist Sebastian Castellanos (voiced by Anson Mount from TV western Hell On Wheels) is, say, crouched weaponless behind a counter while a chainsaw wielding maniac is searching for him, Seb’s field of vision won’t let you peek over the top to see where said maniac is.

I know this because, in what has to go down as the most harrowing opening to any game in years, I find myself crouched and weaponless behind a counter while a chainsaw-wielding maniac is searching for me, ten minutes in. I die seven times in this chapter alone. I can't remember when I’ve ever died in an opening act before. The Evil Within is cruel and unforgiving, exactly as it should be.

It’s also begging to be compared with director Mikami’s old titles. The first standard enemy encounter is a frame-for-frame retread of Resident Evil’s original zombie cutscene, while chapters three and four have moments lifted straight out of Resident Evil 4’s opening village act (bodies tossed onto bonfires and a chainsaw man and his chums chasing you through grotty houses being two such examples). Halfway through the game, a not quite abandoned mansion's but a rendition of Moonlight Sonata away from having its deeds filed under ‘Spencer Estate’.

Castellavista, baby
Despite these multiple callbacks The Evil Within doesn't come close to usurping spiritual ancestor Resident Evil 4’s throne, but on occasion it does match and threaten to improve on the past. Sebastian’s controls are neither as refined nor as heavy as they were for Leon Kennedy (something I consider at length back on p24), his set-pieces not quite as grand. Yet they’re close.

Mikami’s latest spits out a relentless conveyor belt of bosses, and all of them are imposing, iconic creations made for watercooler discussions. The multiarmed Laura is ‘spidergirl’ a slippery, crawling Grudge esque monstrosity that stars in a battle so traumatic I’m convinced it’s impossible to complete the encounter without yelling at the screen. Then there’s The Keeper, better known around these parts as ‘boxman’ with a safe atop his shoulders, he lugs around a giant hammer anda sack of severed heads, using them both as weapons while also laying down barbed-wire leg-traps.

Regular enemies are weaker but just as memorable. Infected villagers hark back to Resi 4’s staple foe and the two headed stretch-o-men have a hint (though mercifully not the vitality) of regenerators…

It’s never scary in the way that Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation makes you uncomfortable; rather it’s hilariously unpleasant. Popcorn-munching scenes of gore and grime will have you on edge but forever hopeful of being caught off guard, purely for the adrenaline rush. The inevitable deaths that come when your trusted survival techniques let you down in battles with new monsters always entertain.

At times the back to the wall pressure’s misjudged (large parts of chapters 11 and 12 go ‘a bit Resident Evil 5’ and irk me considerably). The story’s also utter bobbins only partially resolved when you read text entries in the postgame unlockable Model Viewer. But The Evil Within builds up such a strong sense of goodwill in the rest of its mammoth runtime that it’s easy to forgive the occasional misstep. It's lean, with few repeated ideas, and boasts one of the best save rooms you’ll ever experience. Since when did that become a thing to celebrate?

I’m speaking largely in generalities because every moment I share is a moment spoiled, and The Evil Within feeds off your discoveries. This is a fine debut effort for new studio Tango Gameworks. Now we just need a follow-up that’ll double down on the best bits and really give Resi 4 the fight for which all us horror fans have been gagging.

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